Unceasing Prayer is the Way
Advent 1 Year C
A Hebrew Catholic Perspective
St. Luke 21: 25 — 28 and 34 — 36
Advent is to many of us, a rather odd season, which some “never really get to the bottom of.” And with Christmas just around the corner, anything else seems a distraction!
This beautiful season is not a distraction from the joys of celebrating Christmas — it is a spiritual preparation to enhance our Christmas and to help us put it into Biblical perspective. So let’s allow the Advent message to rouse us from our slumber, and not leave us drifting along.
The third year in the International Lectionary, the year of Luke, seems to begin at the end! That has to start us thinking. Except among a relatively small band of preachers, this text is not a popular choice! It makes us feel uncomfortable, and we don’t really want to have to front up to this kind of material. We would rather just think of Christmas and the nice feelings of “Peace on earth”.
But that is what Advent as a season, the first in the Church’s year, helps us to face and understand: the full power and impact of the coming of the Messiah. Yes, there is an element of fear and apprehension but that is exactly what our Lord, in this intensive instruction, helps us to leave behind — forever.
Remember, this is the Lord’s final teaching before He is betrayed by His close friend, Judas. In only a short time, seemingly, the world would come to an end for Jesus and crush Him to death.
What He teaches here, He is about to put into practice Himself. Let’s now walk slowly through this daunting passage, and hear what He is saying to those who are prepared to listen.
Reflections on our Text
Verses 25 — 26
“There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars,
and on earth nations will be in dismay, perplexed by the
roaring of the sea and the waves.
People will die of fright in anticipation of what is coming
upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken.
This is the apocalyptic imagery of the Old Testament. We can probably hear some people we know saying, “What a load of nonsense!” But our Lord is trying to convey the reality of a vast cosmic change which will overwhelm those unprepared.
Notice only two or three sentences are given to describing the extent of the turbulence. Clearly the scope of the vision and action will involve the whole of creation. All our Lord’s listeners will be surrounded by the turbulence, and there will be nowhere to go in the hope of escaping. There will be dreadful anguish and perplexity, but Our Lord does not yet indicate who will experience these: only that some will.
And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud
with power and great glory.
Then in one short sentence He contrasts the horror of the apocalypse with an event that will far surpass all else beyond any human knowledge: the Son of Man will come in a cloud “with power and great glory”. This emphasis is critical in understanding the meaning of our Lord’s teaching.
If we read Daniel 7: 13:
As the visions during the night continued, I saw One like a
son of man coming, on the clouds of heaven; When he
reached the Ancient One and was presented before him,
….. we can see how Jesus identifies Himself as the subject of Daniel’s prophecy. The words “in a cloud” are an intended reference to this vision.
Despite the extent of the cosmic upheaval, the advent of the Son of Man suppresses all disorder and disharmony before Him.
But when these signs begin to happen, stand erect and raise
your heads because your redemption is at hand.”
When these things begin to take place — stand by!
Before the Lord explains how we are to escape the furies, somewhat surprisingly He says: Stand up and lift up your head. His followers are not to be distraught but are to be confident and are to demonstrate it. They are not to cower in the corner but to hold up their heads and behold the coming of Lord! For the promised delivery and glory is at hand.
Verses 34 — 35
“Beware that your hearts do not become drowsy from
carousing and drunkenness and the anxieties of daily life,
and that day catch you by surprise
like a trap. For that day will assault everyone who lives on
the face of the earth.”
It may be helpful to read 1 Thessalonians 5: 1 — 10, and 16 — 18.
“Be careful!” Be warned! As Jesus explains, we could be just as prone to get side-tracked into seeking instant pleasure and self-gratification as anyone else. If we follow that path we can expect to get trapped. Dont be surprised; just wake up to the fact.
This is the Lord’s sobering warning about:
• dissipation: treating the gift and purpose of life frivolously;
• drunkenness: living for excessive pleasure;
• anxieties: over pre-occupation with even very important
and necessary things in life.
Take care, He says.
Be vigilant at all times and pray that you have the strength
to escape the tribulations that are imminent and to stand
before the Son of Man.”
Only now does He “declare his hand”. What is the way through all of this — what is the “escape clause”? The answer lies in a commandment for those who consider themselves disciples of Jesus: as He said it literally —
“Be always on the watch
be always praying
you will have spent your time and energy developing
what it takes to stand
before me and beside me.
Only then will you escape the
confusion, the contamination
the conflict that surrounds you”
Our Lord is pointing out to His faithful disciples down through the ages that the anxiety and tragedy He is warning about need only afflict those who choose to live a way of life based on worldly, unspiritual values. He is saying, “Never give up keeping watch and praying, and you will be able to stand before the Son of Man”.
This is not scare tactics.
This is a message of hope.
Unceasing prayer is the way ahead.
Yet again we hear the Lord declare with uncompromising clarity, what at first hearing, we may not wish to be confronted with. Only as we ponder what He said do we realise His stark warning contains within it a beautiful message of hope, a promise of loving care and attention from Him.
At first He seems to ask the impossible. But on reflection we discover He is also offering a way through. The Christians of the first two centuries took His words very much to heart: “Be always praying“. They (and their fellow disciples down through the ages) devised a number of ways to be always at prayer, yet to live responsibly as productive members of society.
A short commentary, “Unceasing Prayer: What Is It?” follows at the end.
This short leaflet, explains how we can all take up the Lord’s call and join in the unceasing prayer of the Church. — His unceasing prayer actually — in our own personal way, appropriate in our circumstances.
May you be richly blessed as you grow in understanding of the unique privilege we have been given — to be constantly in communion with God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
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Let us remember God’s Teaching contained in His Word and in
Unceasing Prayer Is The Way
Advent 1 Year C St. Luke 21: 25 — 28 and 34 — 36
Luke 21: 25 — 28 and 34 — 36
Advent 1 Year C
25 “There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars,
26 People will die of fright in anticipation of what is coming
27 And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud
28 But when these signs begin to happen, stand erect and
34 “Beware that your hearts do not become drowsy from
35 like a trap. For that day will assault everyone who lives
36 Be vigilant at all times and pray that you have the
8  The powers of the heavens: the heavenly bodies mentioned in ⇒ Luke 21:25 and thought of as cosmic armies.
Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible,
Unceasing Prayer: What Is It?
A Hebrew Catholic Perspective
Our Lord’s Instruction: “Be vigilant at all times and pray ….. .” may seem a little unrealistic for us in our times. But our reaction may be partly due to a misunderstanding about language. If we turn to sound scholarship on such references to “unceasing prayer” in the New Testament, we are soon reminded that this call to prayer must be understood in the Hebrew sense of being earnest and fervent.
The Greek word used to translate this idea (adialeiptos) conveys two critically important ideas.
● It does not mean — ‘unbroken certainty’
but rather — ‘without omission’ on any occasion
when it should occur.
● It does not mean — ‘what is never interupted’
but rather — ‘what is constantly recurring.’
(W. E. Vine, Expository Dictionary of N. T. Words.)
This clarification should remove ideas we may have held about how impractical it would be to think “you can always be at prayer.” It is all a matter of understanding what prayer really is. This we shall explore.
This understanding had a profound effect on the first Christians who took it very seriously and set in place a variety of patterns of keeping watch, and frequent prayer.
We offer a number of “jottings” to encourage modern day Christians to uphold this practice.
Approaches to Prayer
The Unceasing Prayer of Jesus.
The Christian practice of prayer has been shaped very significantly by the teaching of St Paul. For him, there was really only one prayer, and this was the unceasing prayer of the risen Lord — ascended into Heaven yet dwelling within us — whose prayer to His Father was made present in our hearts by the Holy Spirit. With this in mind there grew the indisputable belief that any movement of our spirit towards prayer became an organic part of this uniquely blessed prayer of the Saviour enthroned not only in Heaven but also in the heart of each disciple. While it held this belief, the Church moved forward, finally absorbing even its greatest opponents. This understanding of prayer may well be one of the most significant features in our personal spirituality as well as our witness, in the Faith, to the world.
The Body of Christ
Flowing from this sense of union with Christ’s loving prayer to His Father, it is appropriate at this point to recall that Christians believe they are baptised into Christ. They become members of His Body, the Church of which He is the Head. Arising out of this comes the further understanding that members form different parts of Christ’s Body. Therefore they “watch and pray” according to their place and function. Not all pray the same way, in the same places, or at the same times. There is thus a recognition of mutual support of one part by another. In other words, we need to let our prayer be assimilated into the whole prayer of the whole Body to the Glory of God.
Therefore we do not try to “cover the whole field” of prayer, but rejoice in the prayer of other members and ask the Lord to receive our humble offering with theirs.
As a practical consideration the early Christians, including the Desert Fathers (as the first monks were called in the first three centuries) considered regularity of prayer as important as frequency. In other words, all could not expect to pray with the same frequency, but all could establish a regular pattern which was appropriate for them and their life style. This should help us to be realistic and still confident we are following the Lord’s call to his disciples to “be always on the watch, and always praying…”.
King David’s Example
Many a time the Lord’s anointed could not sleep at night. He often rose and spent time during the night praising God. In fact some of his finest and most inspired Psalms were composed on these occasions. It is not surprising the Book of Psalms was our Lord’s favourite prayer book! As such it still retains this status in the life of the Church, where it is prayed daily.
The Desert Fathers took David literally and rose nightly for “vigils” — to keep watch for at least one hour. When we find ourselves unsettled at night, a few moments committed to thanksgiving and prayer for the Church — the whole Body — can be a most consoling experience.
We offer this as an example of simply accepting the opportunities for prayer when they are presented to us.
Being Present to God
Our Jewish sisters and brothers, from ancient times, have been most assiduous in, literally, staying close to the Divine Word, the Torah. They recite passages frequently through the day — every day! — and literally strap to their own arm and head, key portions of text on parchment. Thus God’s Word is literally before their eyes and pointing to their heart. They also attach portions of text to the frames of doorways. As they pass through, they touch the Scripture with the fingers which they then kiss.
One or the great Christian pioneers among the Desert Fathers, St Anthony, said “Always have God before your eyes”. Another, Abba Macarius, said the disciple should “be constantly before God”. The practice developed very early in the history of the Church of Christ’s followers simply conversing with God frequently throughout the day. This was not a forced religious exercise but the natural outcome of the realisation that we are in God’s presence.
We offer these reminders from our ancient heritage as an antidote to a common trend today to constantly retreat within one’s own being. The first Christians were well aware of Christ’s presence within, but kept a very healthy balance by recalling that it was they who were in God’s presence, not just the reverse!
One of the most enduring practices of Christ’s followers throughout the millennia has been to recite frequently chosen Biblical words, sentences, or short passages.
This has the effect of keeping the memory actively engaged at a spiritual level. We recommend that you have a small collection of quotations either committed to memory or recorded on a card or in a small notebook to carry with you, and recite them when circumstances permit. This practice is closely allied with the Biblical tradition of meditation. It is so very simple to do, yet few people seem to bother.
Prayer And Action
Brother Lawrence (17th Century) wrote:
● “We are as strictly obliged to adhere to God by action in the
time of action, as by prayer in the season of prayer”.
● “We ought not to be weary of doing little things for the love
of God, who regards not the greatness of the work, but the
love with which it is performed”.
These demonstrate another thread of understanding how we can expand our efforts at unceasing prayer.
We have gone to these lengths about Our Lord’s call for unceasing prayer (echoed later by the Apostle St Paul) because of its central place in our faith. We simply have to understand it correctly; it is so important. Reading the above illustrates it is well within our reach. These are only a few ideas gathered to help you. No doubt you will be able to add many more. We wish you well in this all important endeavour.